“Drive-Ins of New Mexico” now available

When I took this photo 10 years ago, I had no idea it that I’d later use it in a book cover.

Everywhere I look, I see stories of drive-in theaters reopening for the spring season. That’s great, much better than the alternative, but I haven’t found any nice video tributes or otherwise interesting angles to post about here. So I’ll tell you the story of my latest book, which seems to be available for everyone but me.

(By the way, you can get more information about all of my books, including updates and links to some great photos that I couldn’t use, right here on Carload. Just click Books in the menu.)

Drive-Ins of New Mexico is a little different than my last two books. First of all, the epub edition is absolutely free, equipped with a Creative Commons license so anyone can download it and share it with friends, non-commercially. That version doesn’t include the dozens of illustrations that are in the print book, but everything else is there. Feel free to take a look and see whether you enjoy those bite-sized theater histories.

This New Mexico book is also designed to be sort of incomplete. I could have waited until I spent more time researching and reaching out to other historians in the state, but this way everyone can see what I know so far about all of those drive-ins. The epub edition should be easier to update when new information comes in.

But the epub isn’t enough. Some New Mexico contributors have been so generous with their time and effort that I needed to be able to send them a physical version of the book. My mom wants one too. So I spent a week quickly grabbing the images I’d accumulated and placing them like chocolate chips to add some visual flavor to the pages. Very few of those photos and clippings were in color, so I printed the book with greyscale images. That helped me keep the cost down.

Here’s what Drive-Ins of New Mexico was going to look like until the last-minute change

The book’s cover was going to use John Margolies’ excellent photo of Albuquerque’s Cactus Drive-In, taken about four years after it closed. It’s a great photo, and the Cactus was the state’s first large drive-in theater, but I was glad to switch to an alternative. At the last minute, the owner of the Fort Union Drive In Movie Theatre in Las Vegas NM gave me the okay to use my old photo of that drive-in for the cover. I always prefer to promote active drive-ins, even though my books are at least 90% full of closed drive-ins.

After a few rounds of proofs, I ordered a box of author’s copies of the box from Amazon. (I also use IngramSpark as a printer, and for bookstores that don’t like dealing with Amazon.) That box was listed as “Out for Delivery” a couple of weeks ago, but as I type, I still haven’t seen it. Heaven knows whatever happened to those books; Amazon considers them lost. I’ve ordered more from both of these printers, but I haven’t been able to send along copies to my contributors because I don’t have them yet.

So you, dear reader, can feel free to download the free epub, buy a physical copy from Amazon, or both. If you are one of those wonderful people who helped so much in making this book a reality, I’ll be mailing you a copy soon, I hope.

My secret: The Internet Archive

Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle showing off one of beloved 78 rpm records on a century-old Victor Talking Machine.

After I put Drive-Ins of New Mexico to bed (mostly) last week, I had the rare opportunity to visit one of the best sources for my research. The Internet Archive is accessible through the internet from anywhere, but to tour the physical plant, you need to be in the right place on a Friday afternoon.

The Archive, perhaps best known for the Wayback Machine of preserved web pages, also hosts the Media History Digital Library for the Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research. That’s a huge resource for drive-in theater history, especially up to 1955 or so.

And that’s not all. Browsing around a couple of years ago, I found a collection of Motion Picture Heralds from 1950 to 1954. Another section includes bound copies of California Highways and Public Works, another 1950s publication full of aerial photos in the public domain. There are probably more research resources that I haven’t discovered yet.

Then there’s the content. There’s a section of Drive-In Movie Ads to use for your own intermission trailers. There are thousands of Feature Films to put together your own double features around the intemissions. Or if you want someone else to do all that for you, there’s a series of prepackaged Shocker Internet Drive-Ins.

If you want something that’s not drive-in related, the Archive has over two million books available. For music, you can choose from over 100,000 LPs. And then there’s the collection that I think is founder Brewster Kahle’s favorite: over 400,000 78 rpm and cylinder records.

Really, I’ve just scratched the surface in this post. Go wander around the Archive the way you would any other extensive library. I’m sure that you’ll find something you didn’t expect, and something that you’ll love.

Video: Check out the Chama drive-in

Roger Hogan’s drone view of the Chama Drive-In from 2018

Sometimes I don’t need a good excuse to share a video. But I’ve got one anyway. I’m finishing my next book, Drive-Ins of New Mexico, which is how I found out about the one in little Chama there.

Back in 1996, Albuquerque Journal writer Toby Smith had a story about the state’s old drive-ins. He included a sidebar where he mentioned most of them. “One drive-in, in Chama,” he wrote, “called itself Kelly’s, after the resident who owned it”. I was amazed, because that drive-in never showed up on any of the industry lists.

Digging into my reference works, I found out that Michael Kelly returned from serving in World War II and soon began running the indoor Rainbow Theatre in Chama. A few years later (this video says 1960), he built a small drive-in south of town. I only have access to scattered local newspapers, but I know that the Rainbow Drive-In advertised in June 1968. When Kelly died in 1978, Boxoffice remembered him as the operator of the Rainbow Theatre and the Chama Drive-In. So I’m not sure what to call this drive-in.

The story got better. A few years ago, a local group called Elevate Chama started hosting movies and other events on the old drive-in grounds. If they run enough of them, I ought to add the Chama drive-in to the Carload active list. Hmmm.

Anyway, I also found this drone’s-eye view of Chama’s drive-in, posted five years ago on YouTube by Roger Hogan, aka Wacky Roger. It’s been too long since I posted a good drone video, so here you go. I’ll let you know when the book is available.